Indigenous communities constitute 8.6% of the Indian population – 104 million, which is the largest in the world. They are the last stewards of complex systems of biodiversity which hold the heritage of our planet. Last Forest Enterprises is committed to ensure that these traditional customs and activities continue to thrive.
The most important impact that Last Forest makes is that it works in mountain eco-systems with indigenous communities where few dare to venture. Being located in a Biosphere Reserve (declared by UNESCO), there is a constant challenge of working with the Forest Department. It allocates itself the right as the sole protector and arbiter of all issues relating to forests and indigenous communities, even with new legal promulgation like the Forest Rights Act. This Act, for the first time, in our country, acknowledges the injustice done to them and their inalienable right to live and use the forest landscape as part of their livelihood strategy. This is a continuing challenge in changing socio-political equations at both local and national levels.
Last Forest supports indigenous communities to sustain themselves by empowering their skill sets and bringing economic growth. By reinvesting over 30% of our profits in community development, we ensure improvement of health and education and generate pride, dignity, and sustainable income for producers. In numbers, Last Forest impacts over 6,500 indigenous persons in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.The Aadhimalai producer company, who are our primary suppliers, has a total membership of 1609 producers, all of whom are indigenous people. Each employee in the producer company is a shareholder, encouraging them to make decisions on behalf of the company.
The production and value addition take place at village level production centres. These centres are completely run and operated by women who now, do not have to go out of their villages to work in nearby estates. They are now able to earn an income in their own village while taking care of their homes and children.